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Caustic Comments

Part 2

Wisconsin Workshop: Today was/is day 2 of the 30th annuel Wisconsin Workshop, this year on Peter Weiss. A few remarks: The papers presented by Jen, Kaela, and Cordelia were quite good. Well organized mostly, and presented clearly. Informative, for someone such as myself who knows little about Weiss and his works, and yet containing some good analysis here and there. The following paper, while containing some interesting ideas—especially that of looking at post-WII German-Jewish writers (and their works) with the aid of post-colonial theory (and hence, drawing comparisons, analogies, etc.) is an interesting and provoking concept, the overall presentation was incoherent and piecemeal, achieving a rather poor balance between theory and analysis. Indeed, for the overall hypothesis proposed, much of both the theory and anaylysis was tangential, and in fact, the paper came across as a lame attempt at rehashing one’s several hundred page dissertation yet one more time in a 50 minute talk, taking some of the better parts from each chapter yet leaving out so much and inserting meta-comments here and there, with the end result that the listener ends up caring not a bit about the paper as such (having not actually been able to follow its train of thought), and instead only has the broad theoretical hypothesis and specific details of the textual analysis which he/she can take home to contemplate at a later date. If this is what recent Ph.D.s from Chicago end up producing, I’m glad I came to Wisconsin. I had the feeling throughout the presentation that the wrong theoretical frameworks and modes of analysis were often applied, when many other, more appropriate models presented themselves at nearly every turn. I could not escapte the feeling that the author/presenter had put too much energy into making the texts fit her theory—that she had achieved such tunnel-vision that almost anything and everything appeared to have a connection to her topic. And after the fact, when questioned about the more extreme claims of her paper, instead of defending them vigorously, she gave in, admitting that 1) there are better methods for attacking Weiss’s works (which she had already applied in other papers) and 2) that she was just “trying out” this paper on the audiance, to see if it would fly. If this is actually the case—if the paper is merely an act of mental masturbation and serves no real purpose except to add another line to the author’s c.v.—then why should I have even bothered listening to it?

On another note: the barnyard chaos and comic incompetence of the McDonald’s crew is overshadowed only by the gross apathy of Burger King’s automatons.


Objects have no meaning. A brick is a blocky solid composed of baked mud or more cement-like materials. It may or may not be used in construction. It may or may not be part of ruins. It may or may not be the tool of murder. Or a symbol of solidity in the face of impermanence.

We humans, however, imbue objects, whatever they may be, with meaning. For example, at the northwest corner of the intersection of Victory Road and Loucst Grove, near Meridian, Idaho, stands a house of reddish-brown brick. Every school-day morning while growing up I rode past that house on my long and round-about route to first Mary McPherson Elementary School, later Lake Hazel Middle School, and finally Meridian High School. I never noticed that house on my way to school.

Instead, in the afternoon it was a threshhold, a sign that I was only minutes from Charolais Drive. Home. It was on left-hand side of the road, and I often rode on the left-hand side of the bus. It was an entry point—a guard post demarcating territory that was familiar, that belonged to me.

With few exceptions—those being reels of film and sound that can be replayed as if my past were some sort of collection of video clips—my memories consist of reference points—lighthouses, around which are gathered images, emotions, and associations in a more-or-less foggy landscape.

A sound, the sight of a door opening, a person’s smile are all switches that can turn on such a lighthouse, making it into a bright focal point in an otherwise jumbled greyness. The objects illuminated by the lighthouse as its beam sweeps left to right, right to left, are arbitrary and not causally linked, yet at the same time they are associated (not by logic) by way of common ground, common temporality, and common features.

—November 7, 1998.

Computer thoughts: Random thoughts... if I were putting together a computer from scratch ... let’s say I had it, that is, and I had to put together software for it. What sort of software would I want? Let’s take care of the obvious stuff. A word processor, spreadsheet and database application. E-mail, news, ftp, html (browser), telnet, chat/talk clients. Text and TeX editors (and compiler for the latter). CD and other sound file player, mixer, and editor, equalizer, and music notation software. Paint program, photo editor, all-around image manipulator (the basics, plug-ins, special-effects, animation, many formats), and 3-D package, not to mention CAD and the like. Utilities such as a file manager, zip utilities, and networking tools. Mathematical/scientific applications for graphing things and such, as well as fractal programs. Games: shoot ’em ups, puzzles, traditional board games, card games, “adventure” games (text-based and graphical), role-playing games, etc. Programming environments/tools and such fun things as Logo. Let’s not forget emulators for those machines of yore (Apple IIe / IIgs, old Macs, C64, game consols, etc.) Perhaps also “personal” software for finance, schedules, personal notes, address books, etc. This more or less that describes the main categories of software on my Windows box—not that I necessarily have every category filled out completely (I have few programming tools, but I do have Logo, no Maple, Mathcad or Mathematica, but I do have fractal programs), and in some I have multiple entries (such as in the word processing arena). Much of this software is “free” in one way or another. Netscape, for example, gave me a “free licence.” Several other applications are “freeware” and/or “postcardware.” For some, I even have or can get the source code. A few things are in the public domain. (“Edutainment” software was left out as a category—I enjoy the convenience of CD-ROM reference materials and such, but the Internet provides most of the same resources, so I don’t find it to be a necessary category of software for my personal use.) Furthermore, not only these general categories of software, but also specific applications to perform these tasks, are available for practically all personal computer platforms. Windows, OS/2, Mac, Linux, Amiga, RISC-PC, even the old Atari. Games, definitely. “Productivity software”—of course. Graphics and sound? Yes. Math—to a greater or lesser extent. Network/Internet applications/tools? Yup. Tools/Utilities for the computer platform in question? Indeed. The availability of quality music notation software is a problem on many platforms—if it exists, it tends to be expensive, or of beta quality. There are exceptions, of course. This doesn’t touch “commercial” uses of computers—such as professional level publishing. The Mac, followed by NT, probably, has the best software support in that field. Unix flavors have some of the best scientific software. Many linguists seems to prefer Macs (in our dept., all linguists use Macs). PCs have more games, but quality and such is sometimes an issue. TeX is supported better on some platforms than others I suppose. Not to mention that many editors for it (generally WYSIWYG) are beyond my price range. Then there are things such as voice recognition, which don’t currently concern me that much. So, the general result is that whatever major and even non-major platform you chose, you can probably find software for all the needs expressed above, and that goes back to Amigas and Ataris. Linux has no shortage of software, nor does the Mac. Some platforms lack in certain areas. For example, OS/2 doesn’t have the best 3-D, OpenGL support and such, or the best “multi-media” capabilities over all. Be has its gaps as well. Of course, you can’t expect OpenGL support on old Ataris or Amigas, for example.

Then there are questions about the underlying operating system. Multi-tasking (all of the above-mentioned have one form or another to varying degrees), memory protection, interface, etc. How well do applications work together? How “userfriendly” is the environment. How powerful, stable, fast is it? As important as these questions are, they are to a great degree a matter of choice, and a matter of what you are used to if you are an experienced user. After all, if one of your goals is to use the above-mentioned software, you should probably worry more about applications than the underlying OS as long as it does its job. The same goes for hardware—if it does what you want/need, live with it. If not, change it.

If I were building a computer now, what would I get hardware-wise? Case, of course. Probably a tower for expansion, but there are some nice, open desktop units. A stylish case is nice, but not too necessary. A monitor—$500 gets you a rather nice 17” monitor these days, and even some 19” ones are down to that range. On a CRT-based display, I won’t go below 17” anymore—I like lots of screen real-estate, yet I wouldn’t mind—in fact, I would love to have one—a nice flat-screen LCD (and light-weight), but I don’t have the $900 for one (minimum). $200 gets you a nice enough and large enough hard drive—even SCSI if you can settle for a slighly smaller one (or spend a bit more for a larger SCSI drive). $50–60 for a CD-ROM. Motherboard for around $100 (give or take) (preferably many DIMM slots taking up to 1GB of RAM, no ISA slots, 4–5 PCI slots, AGP, SMP-capable (but that depends on the chipset and CPU), USB support—such main boards are sort of a dream at this point, though). $100 for a graphics accelerator, $20–50 for a sound card, and add an internal modem (sure, I’d rather be ethernetted, but that ain’t gonna happen) for under $100 (no WinModem, so finding a good one is a problem). Start with 128MB of RAM preferably. I could go lower, but why do so? And I don’t need more (my K6 only has 96, which is quite enough). A LS-120 drive would be nice in a way—trash the floppy all together. A nice keyboard and mouse (3-button) or trackball. Add a printer and scanner. Preferably a SCSCI card in the machine, too, but for most things, it isn’t really necessary; it is a plus, though. A joystick isn’t a major priority for me—after all, I play few games, and even fewer that actually use and prefer a joystick. MO drive or CD-R might be nice for archiving, but the drives are a bit much price-wise for a poor student such as myself. No need for a camera or anything. Good speakers, though, are nice (or a connection to a good stereo system; of course, my asshole-neighbor complains enough now as it is, so no need to turn up the volume any more), and voice and fax capabilities through the modem are a plus, but not necessary for the way I work. CPU-wise, sure, I’d love a new Alpha, Sparc, MIPS or PowerPC chip, but it’s hard to find $100 motherboards for such CPUs, let alone the CPU itself for $100–200. For that reason, AMDs chips have to remain the chip of choice for now—Intel just isn’t a choise at all. Cyrix makes good enough chips, and they’re tempting given how cheap they are, but since this is just a fantasy—I have no intent of building another computer any time soon—I’ll just go with the AMD chip. Of course, this isn’t a dream-machine, either. It’s rather budget-oriented, in fact. For a dream machine, I’d go for the fastest processor available, SMP it, throw lots of RAM in there, have a big-ass monitor (the “ass” is for a certain linguist doing some serious-ass morphology), lots of RAM, multiple drives, and so on and so forth. And such a machine wouldn’t resolve my computer needs much better than either the “machine” detailed above, or even a sub-$1000 Cyrix-based computer from CyberMax—it would simply run the software that I run a bit faster, and for that software, I/O is the greatest bottleneck. Or my Internet connection itself. Only rarely do I need to swap. Faster RAM would be nice occasionally, or an even bigger display for doing really big graphics and having a massive desktop area, or a faster, more powerful video card (still, 4MB is enough for everyday apps—sure, for Quake at 60fps, I’d need something better, but how often do I play Quake?).

At this point, I should probably quit my rambling. I have computer envy. I see neat new features, software and hardware, and think ”boy, wouldn’t that be nice to have?” Indeed, it would, but it’s not a major priority. A TV-tuner would be spiffy, for example. But totally unnecessary. Same for some games. Etc. A cool SGI machine? You bet—but not something I’m saving away for. In any case, I guess I’ve said enough.

—November 7, 1998

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